Thanks to commercialization and globalization, Christmas celebrations in Greece have come of age. While in the yesteryears, the day was no more important than a holiday, today, Christmas in Greece stands for lavish decorations, colorful lights and elaborate feasts. The beginning of Christmas celebrations was rather modest, going back to the time when St. Nicholas was known as the patron saint of sailors. Greeks believe that St. Nicholas had fought with numerous storms and waves to reach ashore, rescuing drowning men from the sea. Till date, ships never leave the port without carrying a St. Nicholas icon. Talking about Christmas traditions and customs, the rituals of Greece, though same, are slightly different from the western countries.
Christmas Celebrations in Greece
One of the main Christmas traditions in Greece is that the kids go from house to house, offering good wishes and singing kalanda - the equivalent of Christmas carols. The songs are often accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. In return, children are often given sweets or coins, as a token of appreciation. One of the Christmas beliefs in Greece is the arrival of a species of goblins during the 12-day period from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6). Greeks believe that these creatures come from the center of the earth and slip into people's house through the chimney. These creatures are mischievous in nature and cause naughtiness around the house.
In Greece, the main symbol for Christmas is a shallow wooden bowl, with a piece of wire suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross hangs from the bowl. Generally, some water is kept in the bowl, to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once everyday, a member of the family dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the 'Killantzaroi' (bad spirits) away. Apart from this, there are a numerous beliefs that are associated with Christmas in Greece.
The concept of Christmas tree is relatively new to Greece and hence, the presence of this popular Christmas symbols cannot be commonly found in the country. However, one thing that is common to the celebration in Greece and the western countries is the Christmas feast. It is the main attraction of the festival for both children and adults. Lamb and pork are the chief delights of Christmas feast and are often accompanied by loaves of 'christopsomo' (or Christ bread). Much unlike West, Christmas presents are exchanged on St. Basil's Day which falls on the first day of New Year. On this day, the ritual of 'renewal of water' takes place. In this, all water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with new 'St. Basil's Water'. So, offerings are made to the 'naiads', spirits of springs and fountains.